Thursday, September 27, 2007
Continuing our series of responses from various legal luminaries to the question: What is the single best idea for reforming legal education you would offer to Erwin Chemerinsky as he builds the law school at UC-Irvine?
I need to start with a disclaimer. I’m a former corporate executive and business leader. What I am going to say sounds a lot like “let’s listen to our customers,” but many academicians are going to choke on the idea that students or the profession are customers. Well, I choke it on too. In the corporation, the “customer” idea got so much traction that pretty soon we were talking not just about “external customers” but about “internal customers” (i.e. the business units to the law department, or IT, or human resources). And I contended that the phrase “internal customer” caught some of the spirit we wanted, but it caught too much.
You’ll do anything to make a customer happy. But your job as a lawyer (or an IT or human resources professional) is not to make the business happy; it’s to fulfill your professional responsibility with every reasonable and creative accommodation to the business goals. Your job is neither to be a “no” nor a “rubber stamp.” What you want to do is not “listen to your customer” but “listen to your teammates.” That’s a process of mutual accommodation.
So the best single idea for reform is to ask senior people on the practice side what they would have in the curriculum, and listen carefully to the answers. The goal is not for law professors simply to satisfy customers, but to be open to accommodation to the wisdom of our professional colleagues. And if it means soul-searching about what really is a matter of pedagogical principle, so be it.
For all the posts in the series, see here.